“Promise,” he muttered.
“Good grief! Those lovely crystals! If they fell and missed me, I’d hop on one leg to cane you to death, then wake you up and cane you again!”
Slam went the phone.
Joshua Enderby stepped in from the balcony at supper that night. He’d been smoking. He looked at the table. “Where’s your strawberry crumpet?”
“I wasn’t hungry. I gave it to the new maid.”
She glared. “Don’t tell me you poisoned that crumpet, you old S.O.B.?”
There was a crash from the kitchen.
Joshua went to look and returned. “She’s not new anymore,” he said.
They stashed the new maid in an attic trunk. No one telephoned to ask for her.
“Disappointing,” observed Missy on the seventh day. “I felt certain there’d be a tall, cold man with a notebook and another with a camera and flashbulbs flashing. Poor girl was lonelier than we guessed.”
Cocktail parties streamed wildly through the house. It was Missy’s idea. “So we can pick each other off in a forest of obstacles; moving targets!”
Mr. Gowry, gamely returning to the house, limping after his tumble of some weeks before, joked, laughed, and didn’t quite blow his ear off with one of the dueling pistols. Everyone roared but the party broke up early. Gowry vowed never to return.
Then there was a Miss Kummer, who, staying overnight, borrowed Joshua’s electric razor and was almost but not quite electrocuted. She left the house rubbing her right underarm. Joshua promptly grew a beard.
Soon after, a Mr. Schlagel vanished. So did a Mr. Smith. The last seen of these unfortunates was at a Saturday night soiree at the Enderbys’ mansion.
“Hide-and-seek?” Friends slapped Joshua’s back jovially.
“How do you do it? Kill ‘em with toadstools, plant ‘em like mushrooms?”
“Grand joke, yes!” chortled Joshua. “No, no, ha, not toadstools, but one got locked in our stand-up fridge. Overnight Eskimo Pie. The other tripped on a croquet hoop. Defenestrated through a greenhouse window.”
“Eskimo Pie, defenestrated!” hooted the party people. “Dear Joshua, you are a card!”
“I speak only the truth,” Joshua protested.
“What won’t you think of next?”
“One wonders what did happen to old Schlagel and that rascal Smith.”
“What did happen to Schlagel and Smith?” Missy inquired some days later.
“Let me explain. The Eskimo Pie was my dessert. But the croquet hoop? No! Did you spot it in the wrong place, hoping I’d pop by and lunge through the greenhouse panes?”
Missy turned to stone; he had touched a nerve.
“Well, now, it’s time for a wee talk,” he said. “Cancel the parties. One more victim and sirens will announce the arrival of the law.”
“Yes,” Missy agreed. “Our target practice seems to wind up in ricochet. About that croquet hoop. You always take midnight greenhouse walks. Why was that damn fool Schlagel stumbling about out there at two a.m.? Dumb ox. Is he still under the compost?”
“Until I stash him with he-who-is-frozen.”
“Dear, dear. No more parties.”
“Just you, me and-ah-the chandelier?”
“Ah, no. I’ve hid the stepladder so you can’t climb!”
“Damn,” said Joshua.
That night by the fireplace, he poured a few glasses of their best port. While he was out of the room, answering the telephone, she dropped a little white powder in her own glass.
“Hate this,” she murmured. “Terribly unoriginal. But there won’t be an inquest. He looked long dead before he died, they’ll say as they shut the lid.” And she added a touch more lethal stuff to her port just as he wandered in to sit and pluck up his glass. He .eyed it and fixed his wife a grin. “Ah, no, no, you don’t!”
“Don’t what?” she said, all innocence.
The fire crackled warmly, gently on the hearth. The mantel clock ticked.
“You don’t mind, do you, my dear, if we exchange drinks?”
“Surely you don’t think I poisoned your drink while you were out?”
“Trite. Banal. But possible.”
“Well, then, fussbudget, trade.”
He looked surprised but traded glasses.
“Here’s not looking at you!” both said, and laughed.
They drank with mysterious smiles.
And then they sat with immense satisfaction in their easy chairs, the firelight glimmering on their ghost-pale faces, letting the port warm their almost spidery veins. He stuck his legs out and held one hand to the fire. “Ah.” He sighed.